African clergy advise quick action on South Sudan's challenges

Celebrations marked the independence of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9 2011 Credit Sara A Fajardo Catholic Relief Services CNA World Catholic News 7 11 11 Celebrations marked the independence of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011. | Sara A. Fajardo/ Catholic Relief Services

African clergy say the Republic of South Sudan, which gained independence on July 9, must take steps to resolve an increasingly violent conflict in the troubled border region of South Kordofan.

“If the Government of South Sudan does not sit down to address the issues raised by the militia groups, it could become a nightmare with no stability for the South,” said Bishop Daniel Adwok of Khartoum in a recent interview with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

According to the United Nations, violence between northern Sudan's armed forces, and South Sudan's former allies in the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, has displaced more than 75,000 people since the groups began fighting in early June.

Earlier this month, Sudan's northern armed forces made the provocative gesture of strategically positioning four vehicles that appear to be outfitted with multiple-rocket launcher systems. The army says the deployment is normal and that the north is not assembling troops, according to the Sudan Tribune.

But Bishop Adwok remains wary of the move, which he expects will cause greater conflict between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

“I do not think the South will stand idle if it sees its former allies experiencing fatalities and other forms of suffering,” Bishop Adwok noted.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement allied with the south during Sudan's second civil war, which ended with a peace agreement in 2005. Under that agreement, the liberation movement was to be integrated into the Sudan Armed Forces. The planned integration, however, did not succeed.

Sudan's government acknowledges that South Sudan is now officially independent. But South Sudanese minorities in the northern nation fear that reprisals against them may follow, including the possible imposition of Islamic law.

“There is a recognition that change has finally come to South Sudan, but they are in a defiant mood,” Bishop Adwok said of politicians in Khartoum.

“Many see South Sudan becoming independent as a kind of liberation, meaning that Khartoum is now able to what it wants and can pursue its own agenda without having to take into account the very different needs of the south.”

Aid to the Church in Need reported on July 11 that 18,000 faithful in Bishop Adwok's region have sought repatriation to the south, due to the possibility of further oppression.

“The 18,000 do not have protection and are very vulnerable,” he said.

The community's willingness to face danger in crossing between the north and the south reflects a confidence in the Republic of South Sudan and its future. Father Chris Townsend, an information officer for the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, called it “a country of enormous potential” in a July 11 article for South Africa's Mercury newspaper.

But many who return from the north are finding their newly independent home incapable of supporting them. “Many Southerners who were in the North have fled south to few schools and less opportunity,” Fr. Townsend noted.

He said the enormous influx of people returning to South Sudan has seriously strained a country already suffering from “chronic” lack of infrastructure and development. South Sudan, Fr. Townsend wrote, “has a long way to go.”

Despite these difficulties, the country is focused on establishing its new independent identity. Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of the Republic of South Sudan, issued his first decrees on July 10, establishing a temporary government.

The majority of the decrees represented a change in title from the “Government of Southern Sudan” to the “Republic of South Sudan,” with no changes in personnel taking place.

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However, three ministries changed their names to reflect the new republic's independence. The Ministry of Regional Cooperation changed its name to Foreign Affairs, while the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development became the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Sudan People's Liberation Army and War Veterans Affairs became simply the Ministry of Defense.

The republic has also designed and ordered a new currency, called the South Sudan pound. The bills will bear the image of the founder of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, Dr. John Garang. The Associated Press reports that the new bills should arrive July 13 and go into circulation July 18.

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